Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

15 July 2004

Film Review: The Door in the Floor

The Arclight really is a fabulous place to see a film.  You may buy your tickets online for no additional charge.  Your seats are assigned.  There is no late seating.  There are no commercials: only 4-6 minutes of trailers.  And, best of all, a nice young man addresses the audience at the beginning of the film: "Welcome to tonight's presentation of The Door in the Floor starring Jeff Bridges, Kim Basinger, and Jon Foster.  The film also starts Mimi Rodgers, who you might remember from The X-Files' last two seasons.  The film is written and directed by Tod Williams, and based on a book by John Irving.  Previous novels of his which have been turned into films are The Cider House Rules and The World According to Garp.  If you could please take a moment to turn of your cell phones.  I would also like to remind you that there will be no talking during the movie.  I will be watching the first five minutes of the film to ensure sound and picture quality, and if you need anything, or if anyone is disrupting the film, feel free to notify me or anyone else in one of our snazzy blue uniforms."  I swear to god he said all that.  Some people even clapped when he was finished.

The Door in the Floor is an exquisitely crafted piece of cinema.  When the film opens, it has been four years since Ted and Marion Cole lost their two sons Tommy and Timmy.  Tommy and Timmy hang over The Door in the Floor with incredible power.  Their pictures haunt Ted and Marion and are a thing of intense mystery and interest to their four-year-old, Ruthie.  Ted and Marion decide to separate for the summer.  Ted is a womanizer and Marion seems so utterly consumed by grief that she is unable to be responsive to Ted, who is likable and charismatic from the get-go.  This separation seems like a fairly good plan all around.  At the behest of his publisher, Ted decides to take on an assistant, Eddie, who is a high school student.  Eddie is brought to live at their house on a beach in upstate New York for the summer to basically be a gopher for Ted.  The film's title comes from Ted's most famous children's book: a strange tale about a mysterious door in the floor and an unborn baby who is afraid of the door.

I think my favorite thing about the film is its coldness.  In temperature, the film resembles for me films like Spielberg's Minority Report and more importantly Woody Allen's Interiors.  The thing about this that is superior to the Spielberg film is that there is an astonishing amount of color in this film: whole scenes, in fact, surrounding this or that color: indigo squid-ink, a gorgeous red umbrella, a pink sweater, and a hysterical sequence involving pink pants.  The film is, at turns, laugh-out-loud funny and slowly, steadily heartbreaking.  Jeff Bridges is phenomenal here: I can't overstate the ability of his performance enough.  He is achingly real: an ego-driven womanizer who wants desperately to be someone who a young man could admire.  He is a man obsessed with his own body, his own abilities, and his own cleverness: an appallingly selfish, yet extraordinarily generous character who I both loved and hated.  I think most of us can find our fathers in this man.  Kim Basinger is great too.  She gives a quiet, depressed performance.  One scene during a sexual encounter with Marion and Eddie is especially moving.  I did keep wishing that it was Michelle Pfieffer up there on the screen, though.  Jon Foster is fine as Eddie (better than Tobey Maguire in Wonder Boys), and Mimi Rodgers is very very funny as one of Ted's mistresses.  Little Elle Fanning (sister of Dakota, who we all know and love) is adorable as Ruthie.

The best part about the movie, though, is the ending.  I have thought about it since the film ended.  It is a pitch-perfect ending.  There is so much going on, and the ending reminds us that we know so very little about people.  We wait so long for the whole story, the tale that will explain everyone's behavior, and when we get it we feel satisfied and maybe even a little smug.  We understand these people: we understand them enough, maybe, even to judge them.  The end of The Door in the Floor is a fantastic reminder that we don't know anyone enough to feel superior to them.